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§ 142. God and the Creation.

E. Wilh. Möller: Geschichte der Kosmologie in der griechischen Kirche bis auf Origenes. Halle, 1860. p. 112–188; 474–560. The greater part of this learned work is devoted to the cosmological theories of the Gnostics.

In exhibiting the several doctrines of the church, we must ever bear in mind that Christianity entered the world, not as a logical system but as a divine-hurnan fact; and that the New Testament is not only a theological text-book for scholars but first and last a book of life for all believers. The doctrines of salvation, of course, lie in these facts of salvation, but in a concrete, living, ever fresh, and popular form. The logical, scientific development of those doctrines from the word of God and Christian experience is left to the theologians. Hence we must not be surprised to find in the period before us, even in the most eminent teachers, a very indefinite and defective knowledge, as yet, of important articles of faith, whose practical force those teachers felt in their own hearts and impressed on others, as earnestly as their most orthodox successors. The centre of Christianity is the divine-human person and the divine-human work of Christ. From that centre a change passed through the whole circle of existing religious ideas, in its first principles and its last results, confirming what was true in the earlier religion, and rejecting the false.

Almost all the creeds of the first centuries, especially the Apostles’ and the Nicene, begin with confession of faith in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of the visible and the invisible. With the defence of this fundamental doctrine laid down in the very first chapter of the Bible, Irenaeus opens his refutation of the Gnostic heresies. He would not have believed the Lord himself, if he had announced any other God than the Creator. He repudiates everything like an a priori construction of the idea of God, and bases his knowledge wholly on revelation and Christian experience.

We begin with the general idea of God, which lies at the bottom of all religion. This is refined, spiritualized, and invigorated by the manifestation in Christ. We perceive the advance particularly in Tertullian’s view of the irresistible leaning of the human soul towards God, and towards the only true God. "God will never be hidden", says he, "God will never fail mankind; he will always be recognized, always perceived, and seen, when man wishes. God has made all that we are, and all in which we are, a witness of himself. Thus he proves himself God, and the one God, by his being known to all; since another must first be proved. The sense of God is the original dowry of the soul; the same, and no other, in Egypt, in Syria, and in Pontus; for the God of the Jews all souls call their God." But nature also testifies of God. It is the work of his hand, and in itself good; not as the Gnostics taught, a product of matter, or of the devil, and intrinsically bad. Except as he reveals himself, God is, according to Irenaeus, absolutely hidden and incomprehensible. But in creation and redemption he has communicated himself, and can, therefore, not remain entirely concealed from any man.

Of the various arguments for the existence of God, we find in this period the beginnings of the cosmological and physico-theological methods. In the mode of conceiving the divine nature we observe this difference; while the Alexandrians try to avoid all anthropomorphic and anthropopathic notions, and insist on the immateriality and spirituality of God almost to abstraction, Tertullian ascribes to him even corporeality; though probably, as he considers the non-existent alone absolutely incorporeal, he intends by corporeality only to denote the substantiality and concrete personality of the Supreme Being..966966    "Omne quod est corpus est sui generis. Nihil est incorporale, nisi quod non est. Habente igitur anima invisible corpus, " etc. (De Carne Christi, c. 11)."Quis enim negabit, Deum corpus esse, etsi Deus spiritus est? Spiritus enim corpus sui generis in sua effigie." (Adv. Prax. c. 7).66

The doctrine of the unity of God, as the eternal, almighty, omnipresent, just, and holy creator and upholder of all things, the Christian church inherited from Judaism, and vindicated against the absurd polytheism of the pagans, and particularly against the dualism of tile Gnostics, which supposed matter co-eternal with God, and attributed the creation of the world to the intermediate Demiurge. This dualism was only another form of polytheism, which excludes absoluteness, and with it all proper idea of God.

As to creation: Irenaeus and Tertullian most firmly rejected the hylozoic and demiurgic views of paganism and Gnosticism, and taught, according to the book of Genesis, that God made the world, including matter, not, of course, out of any material, but out of nothing or, to express it positively, out of his free, almighty will, by his word.967967    Comp. Gen. c. 1 and 2; Psalm 33:9; 148:5; John 1:3; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:2; 11:3; Rev. 4:11.67 This free will of God, a will of love, is the supreme, absolutely unconditioned, and all-conditioning cause and final reason of all existence, precluding every idea of physical force or of emanation. Every creature, since it proceeds from the good and holy God, is in itself, as to its essence, good..968968    Gen. 1:31; Comp. Ps. 104:24; 1 Tim. 4:4.68 Evil, therefore, is not an original and substantial entity, but a corruption of nature, and hence can be destroyed by the power of redemption. Without a correct doctrine of creation there can be no true doctrine of redemption, as all the Gnostic systems show.

Origen’s view of an eternal creation is peculiar. His thought is not so much that of all endless succession of new worlds, as that of ever new metamorphoses of the original world, revealing from the beginning the almighty power, wisdom and goodness of God. With this is connected his Platonic view of the pre-existence of the soul. He starts from the idea of an intimate relationship between God and the world and represents the latter as a necessary revelation of the former. It would be impious and absurd to maintain that there was a time when God did not show forth his essential attributes which make up his very being. He was never idle or quiescent. God’s being is identical with his goodness and love, and his will is identical with his nature. He must create according to his nature, and he will create. Hence what is a necessity is at the same time a free act. Each world has a beginning, and an end which are comprehended in the divine Providence. But what was before the first world? Origen connects the idea of time with that of the world, but cannot get beyond the idea of an endless succession of time. God’s eternity is above time, and yet fills all time. Origen mediates the transition from God to the world by the eternal generation of the Logos who is the express image of the Father and through whom God creates first the spiritual and then the material world. And his generation is itself a continued process; God always (ἀεί) begets his Son, and never was without his Son as little as the Son is without the Father.969969    For a full exposition of Origen’s cosmology see Möller, l. c. p. 536-560. He justly calls it a "kirchlich-wissenschaftliches Gegenbild der gnostischen Weltanschauung." Comp. also Huetius (Origeniana), Neander, Dorner, Redepenning.69

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